To My Students: A Call For Courage
Over the weekend, the United States was devastated by the news of the horrific shootings in El Paso (Texas) and Dayton (Ohio), killing 30 people and injuring many more.
Reading the news about these atrocities breaks my spirit. It fills my heart with sadness and an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. It is tempting to look away. To ignore the news and just go on about my business. I’m an immigrant here myself: not my country, not my problem, right? Except it is my problem.
An attack on humanity is an attack on all of us. If we allow that to persist, it is only a matter of time before it lands on our own doorstep. My son - an American citizen of immigrant parents - will soon start school. Is his school next? How do I shield him from harm and fear? What do I tell him when his classmates say that children of immigrants are second rate citizens? These questions keep me up at night. They make me want to pack up my things and move my white-ass family back to the safety and comfort of my native country, The Netherlands.
At times like these, I look for inspiration. The Bhagavad Gita, the classic work of Indian literature that lays out the foundation of yoga philosophy, offers wisdom. The story relays a dialogue between Arjuna, a warrior prince, and Lord Krishna, who manifests as his charioteer. It’s an excellent read and I highly recommend it.
Arjuna has been summoned to engage in battle to reclaim land and a rightful title to the throne. In order to succeed, he will need to fight members of his own family. When he arrives at the battlefield, he steps down from his chariot and raises in hands in despair. “How can I engage in this righteous battle, knowing that many good men - including my family - will lose their lives? How will I ever find peace, happiness, if I go through with this?”, he cries. Krishna answer him with calm resolve. He says:” Focus not on the fruits of your labor. You are only entitled to the labor, never to the fruits of your labor.” He proceeds to encourage Arjuna to step up, face his moral responsibilities and engage in the battle of his life, whether he likes it or not. He ensures Arjuna that the practice of yoga will guide him get through it. And so it is.
The practice of yoga, mindfulness and meditation is not about chilling out, escaping reality or doing fancy poses. It’s quite the opposite: it teaches us how to pull ourselves together in our darkest hour. It empowers us to steady our minds and our senses, so that we are able to engage in ‘battle’ and fulfill our moral obligations, with calm conviction and skill.
Then, the news does hit my own doorstep…
While I sat at home watching TV, my brother - a Dutch immigrant who lives in Morgan Hill (CA) - stepped up. His town is right next door to Gilroy, the site of yet another mass shooting that took place at an annual festival, last week. His family was safe at home during the attack. Some of his friends did visit the festival where the shooting took place, but they were all unharmed. Regardless - in the face of atrocity - something (anything!) has to be done. So that’s what he did: he joined his local Community Emergency Response Team to support the FBI investigation.
I would like to dedicate this week’s practice to courage. The courage to resist the urge to look away and open your eyes to suffering: in your own life, in your family, your community or your country. Whatever battle you are facing, I wish you the courage, skill and compassion to step up and face it head-on, with open visor. Not because there is some form of reward, but because it’s the right thing to do. Namaste.